The Library of America, better known for republishing the works of classic novelists and poets in special editions, breaks new ground by letting humorist Andy Borowitz pick short pieces or excerpts from 50 of America’s funniest writers. The selections range from Mark Twain at the earliest up to several contemporary funny people.
Those who have followed American humor will find many pieces they recognize mixed in with plenty of funny new surprises. Humor is always in the eye (or perhaps it’s the funny bone) of the beholder, but part of the joy of this book is that with only a little over 400 pages and many contributors, the selections are brief and if one selection doesn’t make you giggle or smirk, the next comes quickly and probably will. Humor often lives on the edge of darkness or crudeness, and Borowitz does a fine job of walking that edge, picking pieces that are certainly not pasteurized but also aren’t vulgar or cheaply gross.
My favorites included H. L. Mencken’s vitriolic “Imperial Purple,” James Thurber’s “More Alarms at Night,” S. J. Perelman’s hilarious noir spoof “Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer,” E. B. White’s Hemingway spoof “Across the Street and into the Grill,” Peter De Vries’ “House of Mirth,” Lenny Bruce’s “How to Talk Dirty and Influence People,” Woody Allen’s “A Look at Organized Crime,” a three-writer effort called “Our White Heritage,” some of Charles Portis’s old “Your Action Line” columns, Veronica Geng’s newspeak masterpiece “Curb Carter Policy Discord Effort Threat,” director John Hughes’s story that originated, and is raunchier than, the film Vacation, Bruce McCall’s spoof of mail ads, Calvin Trillin’s spiteful “Corrections,” Dave Barry’s relationship tips, Susan Orlean’s baby-bashing “Shiftless Little Loafers,” Ian Frazier’s application of biblical language to “Laws Concerning Food and Drink,” David Sedaris’s “Buddy Can You Spare a Tie?,” Jack Handey on “What I’d Say to the Martians,” and George Saunders’s “Ask the Optimist.” But those are just my choices. Yours will be different.
There are bibliographic annotations at the end of the book for each of the writers, so read these excerpts, pick your favorites, and search the library for lengthier examples of their work.
Check the WRL catalog for The 50 Funniest American Writers